One of the most popular questions our guests ask is, “Who is the Johnny in Johnny’s Italian Steakhouse?” The name actually comes from two iconic personalities who helped to shape and define our beloved restaurant.
Growing up during prohibition and the Great Depression in the Valley Junction neighborhood of West Des Moines, Iowa, John Stamatelos often received 25 cents from government tax collectors in exchange for insider knowledge on the locations of his father’s illegal corn moonshine stills. Happily accepting the cash, the youngster would then lead the G-men astray to spots where stills were long since abandoned.
Stamatelos turned those quarters into seed money for converting his own house into Johnny’s Vets Club in December 1946. Since liquor by the glass was still illegal, he operated the club as a speakeasy. Playing host to community dignitaries and locals alike, Stamatelos’s popular speakeasy often had guests waiting 90 minutes for a seat. He had one golden rule, “You are not doing a customer a favor by being in business, the customer is doing you a favor by patronizing your place.”
Meanwhile, another Johnny on the other side of town, Johnny Compiano, and his wife, Kay, opened Johnny and Kay’s Restaurant—a humble one-room dining area and bar with a maximum capacity of 32 guests. Compiano’s love for cooking started in New Orleans while serving in the Coast Guard, and his iconic Steak de Burgo soon become a nightly attraction. Aside from their mutual love of hospitality, both Johnnys laid claim to the best de Burgo in Iowa—one adhering to the Italian style of cooking with olive oil, while the other used butter, garlic, and heavy cream.
In 2001, Heart of America Group owner Mike Whalen created a modern-day tribute to the concepts fostered by Stamatelos and Compiano. Johnny’s Italian Steakhouse serves thousands of guests far and wide with the same spirit of service and culinary flair as the storied gentlemen sharing this emblematic first name.